As we began 2021, there was a sense of renewal and small amounts of hope and opportunity to reset and heal from the collective trauma of the last year. However, our anxieties rose as we watched the pandemic grow in speed and severity. And then we witnessed the full assault on democracy and on the rule of law as our Congress began the process of affirming the will of the people expressed through a fair and lawful election -- an expression of our democracy.
Just as we understand today that COVID-19 laid bare the disproportionate impacts on communities of color, this week we witnessed the inconsistent application of the law to White supremacist mobs staging an insurrection at our nation’s capitol. This violent uprising was a failed attempt to invalidate the voices of so many Americans, and yet the police were woefully unprepared, passively stood by, and in some places encouraged the rioters.
When Black and Brown people peacefully protested injustice, they were met with blunt force, tear gas and brutal arrest tactics. Yet, the inadequate law enforcement response to the storming of our nation’s capitol put our elected officials’ lives at risk. To put it simply, we are living in two Americas: as the 1968 Kerner Commission -- officially The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder -- put it, “one Black, one White, separate and unequal.”
What we witnessed was a form of American mob rule, encouraged and condoned by leaders at the very highest levels of government, including the president himself. It is clear that this President is determined to neglect his oath to uphold democracy. He must be removed from office immediately, either through the 25th Amendment or by impeachment. His enablers must also be held accountable.
Last year, the pandemic showed us the prevalence of inequitable policing practices, our broken justice system, widespread voter suppression, and a plethora of culturally embedded forms of racial discrimination. But, what we saw in Washington, D.C. was the manifestation of the innate unwillingness of law enforcement to confront White mobs emboldened by White privilege.
This is not our first time at a crossroad. Standing along the sidelines in hopes that someone else will step forward is no longer an option. The Kerner Commission’s report stated that we were faced with a choice to act in the face of this separate and unequal society:
“This deepening division in our country is not inevitable. The movement apart can be reversed. We believe choice is still possible. Our principal task is to define that choice and to press for a national resolution.”
Those words hold true today.
The Kerner Commission’s most notable conclusion regarding racial disorder in American cities was, “White institutions created it, White institutions maintain it and the White society condones it.” So while communities of color have served as the moral conscience of the United States and have always worked to bend the arc of history towards justice, we cannot do this alone. White Americans must step forward to act in solidarity.
It is our collective courage and ability to envision a better America that represents our values as a people who care about and for each other that matters most. And we do see reasons for hope: We just witnessed the election of Georgia’s first-ever Black U.S. senator, the pastor of Martin Luther King’s church, powered by the leadership of Black organizers and multi-racial coalitions that show us that positive change is possible.
Let us move together in 2021 and embrace our shared humanity. This is the moment to rise up from the pain of this week and move courageously to heal our country and remake it to live up to its ideals of truth, liberty, and justice.
Debra Gore-Mann is the CEO and President of The Greenlining Institute. Follow her on LinkedIn.